The first doses of the "swine flu" vaccine arrived at American clinics on Monday. But the H1N1 virus is no more "swine" flu than most other strains of influenza, Michael Specter writes The New Yorker. The name emerged incidentally in an early report, even though the virus had never been found in pigs.
"It was misleading because most strains of the influenza virus consist of genes from pigs, humans, and birds that have combined in a variety of ways," Specter writes.
But misleading or not, the porky name has raised analogies to the 1976 "swine flu," which the government warned could kill millions but which never arrived.
The association, abetted by a lull in publicity that opened the door for "the anti-vaccine, anti-government, and anti-science crowd," has since stymied the push to get Americans vaccinated against a very serious disease—a recent national poll found that only 40 percent of parents planned to get their child vaccinated against H1N1.
Specter also finds Internet rumors, such as the unfounded myth that seasonal-flu shots increase susceptibilty to H1N1, to blame for "the spurious alarms spread by those who would make us fear vaccines more than the illnesses they prevent."
Read original story in The New Yorker Monday, Oct. 5, 2009